Prep softball: Hoover aims to take next step in ’13
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Herbert Hoover softball team came one game short of making it to the state tournament last year, losing in the Class AA Region 4 championship to eventual state champion Wayne.
The Huskies are hoping to take the next step this season after a 22-5 finish in 2012, and, with the return of sophomore standout pitcher Allison Rager, Hoover Coach Missy Smith has high hopes.
"We are looking to build on last season," Smith said. "Our goal every year is to win the state championship. We have good teams in our region and always have. It feels like whoever makes it out has won the championship. We want to be that team this year."
Rager returns after an impressive freshman season that saw her sport a 20-3 record with 163 strikeouts in 149 innings and a 1.27 earned run average. She also hit .427.
"Allison was very impressive as a freshman," Smith said. "It's exciting for me and the coaches to have her back. She makes my life easier for sure. I wish I had an exact clone of her but I will take the one I have.
"She is a dual threat and is a student of the game. We have already talked before the season about game plans on different teams and individuals. She looks to be in mid-season form already."
Smith also returns quite a bit of talent in senior catcher Damia Mogielski and senior first baseman Amber Oaks. Three juniors in their second season starting are back in McKenzie Edmonds, Ashleigh Tignor and Mikayla Craze.
Sophomore Katie Angle is a returning starter in the outfield, while Zoey Carte and Caroline Thornburg will have expanded roles.
A look at other Class AA and Class A teams in the Kanawha Valley:
Sissonville - With a team mostly consisting of freshman, Coach Niki Gross knows the Indians will have their fair share of ups and downs, but has a talented group to build toward the future.
"We are really young with 11 freshmen out of 16 players, but they won the middle school championship last year, so they are very talented," Gross said. "We are excited at what we have."
Several of the freshmen include shortstop Karli Pinkerton, who already has enjoyed successful individual seasons with the Sissonville soccer and basketball programs. The others are Alexee Haynes, Brey Stone, Raegan Johnson and Makenzi Whittington.
With all the freshmen, Gross will rely even heavier on returning standout Bekah Baldwin. The senior pitcher/first baseman hit .506 last season with 10 home runs, 15 doubles, and 36 RBI and struck out 94 batters in 93 innings.
"Bekah is an all-around great hitter and pitcher," Gross said. "When it comes to pitching, she can throw all the pitches. (Former Sissonville standout pitcher) Andrea Lewis is my assistant coach and has always been Bekah's pitching coach, so it's going to help us out a lot."
Other returning players that saw action last year that will see an increase in their roles include senior outfielder Emily Shaffer, junior outfielder Jamie Holmes and sophomores Andrea Harmon, Kayla Legg and Katelyn Linville.
Poca - No matter what the Dots record is this year, Poca suffered its toughest loss long before the season begins on March 19.
Poca lost first-team All-State standout Madi McGrew for the season after the senior tore her anterior cruciate ligament in a basketball game against Charleston Catholic on Dec. 28.
McGrew would have been the leading returning hitter in the area in batting average (.564), doubles (17), triples (11) and stolen bases (44).
"She was going to be one of the better players in the state," Coach David Skeen said. "It's a huge loss for us with not only her talent but also her leadership. The girls know it's a great loss."
Poca doesn't return a lot from last year's team, but Skeen will lean heavily on sophomore shortstop Bri Bias and junior center fielder Natalie Parkins.
"We expect a lot from Bri," Skeen said. "She is the one with the most experience offensively and defensively. She has a pretty good bat and she will mature into an even better player. Natalie has real good speed and she will have to lead our offense."
Skeen expects big things from freshman pitcher Tori Ward. Others who will play a lot include Haley Wagner, who must replace McGrew behind the plate, to go along with Rachel Yates and Kendal Sayre, Hannah Bailey and Harley Hutchins.
Charleston Catholic - Kevin Corbett will be looking to return the Irish back to its winning ways and the first-year coach has a good building block to start with in junior shortstop Brianna Ross.
Ross was All-State honorable mention as a freshman and started every game at third base on her way to hitting .371.
However, after Catholic lost five starters, including two first-team All-State players, the Irish suffered through a rough season in 2012. Ross hit .676 but didn't have enough at-bats to qualify and led the team in batting average, runs scored, stolen bases, doubles and triples.
Emma Sovick also returns after batting .429 last season, but also didn't have enough plate appearances with so many mercy-rule defeats. Other starters back include Christina O'Dell, Casey Walker, Katie Pulliam, Allie Persily and Brittany Joseph.